‘Eleanor & Park’ to remain on Anoka-Hennepin shelves

The controversial novel selected for Anoka-Hennepin’s Rock the Book summer reading program will remain on library shelves after a challenge process.

EleanorTroy and Sarah Cooper, parents of an Anoka High School student, challenged “Eleanor & Park” back in June, citing 227 instances of profanity, pornographic content and inappropriate themes in the book.

The two published a report on the Parents Action League’s website and in August addressed the school board.

“It is no small matter that the absurdly inappropriate material in this book was placed in the hands of our children by the very people we have entrusted to educate them and provide them with daily examples of the highest integrity and moral conduct,” Troy Cooper said, calling for the removal of the book from school libraries, among other measures.

A nine-person committee, organized by Anoka High School Principal Mike Farley, reviewed “Eleanor & Park” and voted unanimously to keep it on library shelves.

Three parents, one student, one community member, two teachers, a school librarian and Farley made up the committee. Members’ names were not released.

All members of the committee read the book before gathering Nov. 13. The group discussed the novel for two hours before coming to a decision.

Overall, the committee liked the book and thought it was written skillfully, Farley said.

“They felt that high school students would relate to the themes,” he said, naming bullying, poverty, love, hope, the power of language and abuse as key themes.

Farley said that he struggled with the language, but “if the language was taken out, it wouldn’t be the same book.”

He met with Troy Cooper Nov. 18 to relay the committee’s findings.

The challenge process

The Coopers can appeal the committee’s decision at the district level, but as of press time, no appeal has been made.

Troy Cooper did not return calls for comment.

Anoka-Hennepin’s Director of Communication and Public Relations Mary Olson recalls only one appeal in her 30 years with the district. The “Goosebumps” series was challenged and appealed in 1996-1997 for being too scary for elementary students. The books remain on library shelves.

Olson has not seen a book removed from libraries during her tenure, although there are challenges every few years, she said.

“The board is really respectful of that [challenge] process,” School Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said.

He said that he respects the committee’s decision to keep “Eleanor & Park” in the libraries, but maintains that the book was an inappropriate “single-choice” book for a school-led program.

“The school board believes that ‘Eleanor & Park’ was not age appropriate and was an unacceptable choice for the summer reading program without parent approval,” Heidemann wrote in a letter to parents who addressed the school board about the book in August.

The board continues to review district media policy.

Farley, who has never led a challenge process before, thinks it’s a good process to have in place. “This is the right of parents and community members,” he said.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]